FILM REVIEW: ‘The Revenant’

the-revenant-re_r709_mktg_006-088594_rgbWe’ve reached a level of technology where, if something can be imagined, folks in Hollywood can make it happen. The domination of digital effects, in the wrong hands, could result in technicians rather than artists overwhelming our moviegoing experience. (Let’s face it: That’s what superhero movies are.) But when you have a director like Alejandro G. Inarritu in control, the artistry remains intact. To steal from a superhero movie (by way of the Enlightenment), with great power comes great responsibility. And oh, what power is wrought by The Revenant.

The victory of vision with a purpose is evident in almost every frame of this towering yet intimate epic. In the 1830s, trappers in the mountainous Midwest are dealing with Native American raiders. Maybe the trappers are the bad guys, invading sacred lands; maybe the Indians are, ambushing men with a fusillade of arrows while the sit unarmed in camp. Who is right isn’t the point; there’s conflict, and everyone is on edge, from the wily and self-interested trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, in what may be the year’s best performance) to the methodical family man Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who lived with Indians (his teenaged son is on the safari with the white men) and understands the value of empathy. When Hugh is attacked by a bear — in what is the film’s most eye-popping and harrowing scene, one of the most viscerally arresting ever filmed — his survival puzzles his colleagues. Some (Fitzgerald most vocally) want to abandon him; the leader, though, believes he needs to be cared for until he dies … which should be soon.

But Glass doesn’t die that easy. He lives on, to the consternation of Fitzgerald, who plans to speed up nature … and commit heinous crimes in the process.

The Revenant is like Moby-Dick on land, a revenge movie about Glass’ determination not to be left for dead, and to take his pound of flesh from those who would deny him his humanity. For more than two and a half hours, Inarritu drags us through the snowy crags of the Rockies, through starvation, murder, animal attacks, manhunters and the interpersonal dynamics of post-Colonial America with a keenness and insight that feels continually authentic. That’s quite a feat, especially considering Inarritu’s last film, the Oscar-winning Birdman, was set in the constricting tableau of a Broadway theater, with only occasional forays down city streets in what appeared to be one continuous shot. His cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezski, opens up the visuals of The Revenant in staggering ways, doing for the cold American frontier what Freddie Young did for desert vistas in Lawrence of Arabia. He should be coasting toward his third Oscar (he also shot Gravity) in as many years.

The performances are just as essential in convincing us, with DiCaprio conveying mostly with his eyes and body (he speaks only a handful of lines in the film) and Hardy, or course, the scariest villain this side of the Sith. The Revenant is the year’s most anguished masterpiece — Hollywood filmmaking at its very best.

Opens in wide release Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DFW Film Critics declare ‘Spotlight’ the best picture of the year

spotlight-S_09159_rgb

‘Spotlight’ won best picture

The Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards and Screen Actors Guild have all already weighed in on their votes for the best in film in 2015, and not it’s the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association‘s turn, a group of 31 print, broadcast and online critics (including me) across the region. This morning, the group named Spotlight — about the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal uncovered by the Boston Globe — best picture of 2015, and also won for its screenplay, but The Revenant took the most awards — four.

Unlike many critics’ groups, DFW actually lists runners-up in order, making the top 10 films: 2.The Revenant, 3. Carol, 4. Sicario, 5. Mad Max: Fury Road6. The Big Short, 7. The Martian, 8. Room, 9. The Danish Girl and 10. Brooklyn.

Oak-Cliff-Film-FestivalThe Russell Smith Award, named in honor of the late gay Dallas Morning News film critic, who succumbed to AIDS nearly 20 years ago, recognized cutting edge independent films, for which Russell was a tireless champion. This year’s recipient was Tangerine, the guerrilla-made comedy about two transgender prostitutes on the streets of L.A. one Christmas.

Best actor was awarded to Leonardo DiCaprio, for his nearly wordless performance as a man who swears revenge after a bear attack in The Revenant. The film also won Alejandro G. Inarritu best director honors; Inarritu won last year as well for Birdman, which also won the best picture Oscar. Runners-up for best actor were Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs; Eddie Redmayne as a transgender woman in The Danish Girl; Matt Damon for The Martian; and Johnny Depp for Black Mass.

Runners-up for best director were Thomas McCarthy, who helmed Spotlight; George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road; Todd Haynes for Carol; and Dennis Villeneuve for Sicario.

Best actress went to Brie Larson as a fierce mother in Room; she was followed by Cate Blanchett as a lesbian in the 1950s for Carol; Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn; Charlotte Rampling as a wife discovering her husband’s past in 45 Years; and Carey Mulligan playing a Suffragette.

Supporting winners are actress Rooney Mara, as a young shopgirl discovering she is gay in Carol and Paul Dano as a young Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy. Runners-up for supporting actress were Alicia Vikander (for Ex Machina and The Danish Girl) , Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs; and Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight; for supporting actor: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies; Tom Hardy for The Revenant; Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation; and Benicio del Toro for Sicario.

Other winners include best foreign language film, Son of Saul; best animated feature, Inside Out; best documentary, Amy; and best cinematography and best score, both to The Revenant.

Association president Todd Jorgensen announced that this year’s awards were being dedicated to former DMN film critic Phillip Wuntch, who died in October.

The Academy Award nominations will be announced in late mid-January. My own top 10 list will come out on Christmas Day. Until then, Friday — our annual Hollywood Edition — will profile some likely nominees, and review more than half a dozen films being released for awards consideration in the coming weeks, including Carol, The Danish Girl, The Big Short and, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We also have an interview with the gay director of Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What to expect on the awards list this season

DanishGirl_11440701241The National Board of Review, the first group to release its picks for the best films of the year, will announce its Top 10 later this week (with the Golden Globe nomination on its heels Dec. 10), so I decided to preview what you can probably expect to see. I haven’t screened all of these films yet, so these aren’t necessarily my votes (though they are informed by what seems good that I have seen); they are, rather, what the groundswell seems to be in a few of the major categories. I limit my list to 10 possible nominees in each category.

Picture/director: Spotlight; The Danish Girl; Carol; Bridge of Spies; The Martian; The Walk; The Revenant; The Hateful Eight; Joy.

Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl; Tom Hardy, Legend; Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant; Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw; Mark Ruffalo, Infinite Polar Bear; Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies; Matt Damon, The Martian; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Walk. Not on the list: Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, a heavily-pushed performance that I felt never caught fire and carried the picture; anyone from Spotlight (all the cast members have been lumped in the supporting category); Michael Caine, Youth (though he really should be).

Supporting actor: Liev Schreiber and Michael Keaton, Spotlight; Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Tom Hardy, The Revenant; Michael Shannon, 99 Homes; Paul Giamatti, Straight Outta Compton; Harvey Keitel, Youth; Sylvester Stallone, Creed; Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation; Benicio del Toro, Sicario.Not on the list (nut should be): Rick Springfield, Ricki and the Flash.

Actress: Lily Tomlin, Grandma; Cate Blanchett, Carol; Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold; Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van; Brie Larson, Room; Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash; Julianne Moore, Freeheld; Amy Schumer, Trainwreck; Soirse Ronan, Brooklyn; Jennifer Lawrence, Joy.

Supporting actress: Rooney Mara, Carol; Rachel McAdams, Spotlight; Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (or Anomalisa); Joan Allen, Room; Laura Dern, 99 Homes; Virginia Madsen, Joy; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Oscar recap: The good, the bird and the ugly

OscarsAs expected, Birdman won the majority of the  big awards Sunday, taking best picture, director and original screenplay but there were some other notable results. as well.

For the second year in a row, a gay host Neil Patrick Harris (following Ellen DeGeneres) led the festivities. Unlike Ellen, NPH seemed not to read the audience well and many jokes bombed following a great opening number.

The best actress winner for Still Alice,  Julianne Moore, 54, became the first actress in history to win the leading actress Oscar while in her 50s. She also can claim another distinction: She won her Oscar directed by two gay men, who got their start in hardcore gay porn.

The adapted screenplay award went The Imitation Game about gay mathematician Alan Turing. The winning screenwriter, Graham Moore, gave a passionate speech about growing up “different” that read like an It Gets Better video … Though after he said he was not himself gay.  Hmmm.

Lesbian filmmaker Laura Poitras, who focused not just on Edward Snowden but gay journalist Glenn Greenwald, took the best documentary feature award for Citizenfour.

Foxcatcher, which implied a strange, homoerotic obsession by the murderous John DuPont (best actor loser Steve Carell),  walked away with no wins in five nominations, including a miss for the putty noses used to transform the actors.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Come to the Magnolia tonight and see me predict the Oscars

OscarsNow, I am the first to admit that I do not always accurately predict all 24 Oscar categories every year. Take last year — I only got 23 right. You heard me. I have seen virtually every nominated film, and I will be weighing in on the likely winners as part of a panel discussion at the Magnolia Theatre tonight (Monday), starting at 7 p.m. It’s free, and you’re all invited to see me gues…. I mean, predict the outcome of the gay Super Bowl this Sunday. There will even be some trivia and maybe some giveaways…. And come ready to stump me with your trivia questions!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Preview: Oscar nominations are tomorrow, and here are my predictions

image-368

Birdman is a hotly fancied contender

The Golden Globes are barely cold (well, they are probably always cold) and it’s already time for the Oscar nominations, which will be announced tomorrow. There are always surprise snubs and inclusions, but if you’re up for an office pool, here’s my educated prediction for the major categories. Just don’t blame me if you lose $5.

Picture. The rules now permit from six to ten nominations, with nine being the usual figure, so here are a list of a dozen films that should make up the final list: Birdman; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Selma; The Theory of Everything; American Sniper; Gone Girl; Whiplash; Unbroken; Foxcatcher; Wild.

Director: Best director will surely be culled from the best picture finalists, so look for some of these directors match their films’ nominations. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman; Richard Linklater, Boyhood; Wes Anderson, Budapest; Ava DuVernay, Selma; Damien Chazelle, Whiplash; Morten Tyldum, Imitation; James Marsh, Theory; David Fincher, Gone Girl; Clint Eastwood, American Sniper.

Actor: Once more, a strong year, led by these five (and a few spoilers): Michael Keaton, Birdman; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler; David Oyelowo, Selma; plus Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Ralph Fiennes, Budapest.

Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice; Reese Witherspoon, Wild; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Jennifer Aniston, Cake; plus Emily Blunt, Into the Woods; Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night; Amy Adams, Big Eyes.

Supporting Actor: A great category, led by: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash; Edward Norton, Birdman; Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; Ethan Hawke, Boyhood; with the final spot a toss up for Tom Wilkinson, Selma; Raz Ahmed, Nightcrawler; Robert Duvall, The Judge; and Miyavi, Unbroken.

Supporting Actress: Not a very deep bench, but the likely nominees were all excellent: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; Emma Stone, Birdman; Laura Dern, Wild; Meryl Streep, Into the Woods; Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year; and Rene Russo, Nightcrawler.

I’ll post the actual nominees here Thursday morning!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Oscar recap: Winners and losers onstage and the red carpet

McConaughey rocked a white dinner jacket.Gravity apparently lacked gravitas last night, for while the special effects extravaganza won the most Oscars — seven in all, including best director for Alfonso Cuaron — best picture went to the slavery biopic 12 Years a Slave, giving Brad Pitt his first Oscar … as a producer. Director-coproducer Steve McQueen also made history as the first black man to win a best picture Oscar. It was a close one — 12 Years and Gravity were my No. 1 and No. 2 film, respectively, of 2013.

This was a weird repeat of last year, when best picture winner Argo took three awards, but not the most awards, with Life of Pi taking, interesting, four of the same Gravity won (director, special effects, score and cinematography). So far, no Oscar for best picture has ever gone to a film released in 3-D or IMAX format.

The other big winner of the night was Dallas Buyers Club, which won three of its six nominations, including best actor to native Texan Matthew McConaughey and best supporting actor to Jared Leto. Cate Blanchett, as predicted, won best actress for the Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine. Overall, it was a fairly predictable lineup of winners. (Strangely, five of the best picture nominees, including three nominated for best director, walked away entirely empty-handed.)

But it wasn’t just on the stage but on the red carpet that we saw the winners and losers. Our fashion guy J. Denton Bricker weighs in below with his best- and worst-dressed awards:

Denton’s best dressed:

CATE BLANCHETT

Blanchett, who won the entire awards season on the red carpet

Cate Blanchett — The best actress winner won again for her fashion choices, as she did throughout award season. Her fabulous nude dress adorned with ice/diamonds/crystals looked like something out of Frozen via Giorgio Armani. It was heavy but it looked so light and the chandelier earrings were a perfect balance. The girl worked those snowballs hard.

Lupita Nyong’o — The supporting actress winner wore an amazing yet simple duck-egg-blue dress, with a silver headband to make it looks all the more like a fierce Roman lady. Her acceptance speech was adorable and inspiring.

Charlize Theron — The prior Oscar winner looked divine and polished in a black gown by Dior that accentuates her curves in all the right way. The light straps give the illusion of strapless which give it a needed lightness on top.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Jennifer Lawrence, the lady in red.

Jennifer Lawrence — Last year’s best actress is becoming a fall expert as she fell over an orange cone getting out of the car; what a way to make an entrance and of course Ellen teased her about it. She looked gorgeous in bold, strapless red Christian Dior with blown back hair and simple accessories. She also wore a necklace that drapes in the back — she is working that trend.

Kate Hudson — She has laid the foundation for a comeback with this startling beautiful and fabulous, shimmering silver frock. K-Hud is open for business.

Amy Adams — She donned a striking, deep blue ’50s-inspired Gucci Couture gown with tangerine earrings that popped.

Honorable mentions:

Kerry Washington — She glowed in a lavender gown by Jason Woo but her dark lipstick was a bit severe.

Angelina Jolie — She looked voluptuous in a metallic sheer combination form fitting dress that showed the perfect amount of skin.

Anne Hathaway — She dazzled in a sleek in black Gucci with a glittering jeweled top.

Meryl Streep — The Oscar legend wore a forgettable white/black ensemble with a glittering belt but let’s be real, she can wear whatever the hell she wants. She could wear a burlap sack and no one would blink. Meryl is winning.

PENELOPE CRUZ

Cruz-in’ for a bruisin’ in the fashion blogs.

Denton’s worst dressed:

Naomi Watts — She looked crisp and clean in a white dress by Calvin Klein though somehow I can’t help but picture white lint balls all over it.

Julia Roberts — The pretty woman wore an edgy black lace gown that was pretty but just wasn’t memorable.

Sally Hawkins — A nominee this year, she  looked like Diane Keaton from Father of the Bride, which was fine in 1990 but in 2014 looks ridiculous and way too big.

Penelope Cruz — She wore a wrinkled pale pink sheet cinched at the waist by a black bow and she struggled with it on the red carpet.

Lady Gaga — Three words: Gay Chrysler Building.

Jennifer Garner — This just didn’t work. I want to like it because I like her but I just don’t know if four different rows of silver fringe really belong at the Oscars. 

Leto, dressed as a man, was defiantly dapper.The Men:

Jared Leto — He kept it fresh with a white jacket with a wine colored bow tie. I love the ombre of his hair.

Matthew McConaughey — He handsomely coordinated with Leto, also wearing a white jacket but was “dirty but in a good way,” as Ellen quipped.

Joseph Gordon Levitt — He was really dapper in a black form fitting tux complete with bow tie.

Chris Hemsworth — Last but not least, Thor rocked a hot maroon jacket.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My Oscar picks!

Dallas-buyers-clubMy picks for the Oscar winners — first the likely winner, then the possible spoiler (an * indicates what I would vote for, if someone gave me a ballot).

Watch the Oscars Sunday at 6 p.m. on ABC, with host Ellen DeGeneres.

Picture: *12 Years a Slave; Gravity.

Director: *Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave.

Actor: *Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club; Bruce Dern, Nebraska.

Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; *Judi Dench, Philomena.

Supporting Actor: *Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club; Barkhad Abdi, Capt. Phillips.

Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle (*June Squibb, Nebraska).

Original Screenplay: *Her; American Hustle.

Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave; Capt. Phillips (*Philomena).

Cinematography: *Gravity; Inside Llewyn Davis.

Film Editing: *Gravity; Capt Phillips.

Production Design: *The Great Gatsby; Her.

Costume Design: *The Great Gatsby; 12 Years a Slave.

Original Score: *Gravity; Philomena.

Original Song: *“Let It Go,” Frozen; “Ordinary Love,” Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Sound Mixing: Gravity; *Inside Llewyn Davis.

Sound Editing: *Gravity; Capt. Phillips.

Visual Effects: *Gravity; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Makeup/Hairstyling: *Dallas Buyers Club.

Foreign Language Film: The Great BeautyThe Hunt (*Omar).

Animated Feature Film: Frozen; *The Wind Rises.

Documentary Feature Film: The Act of Killing; *The Square.

Live Action Short Film: *Helium; That Wasn’t Me.

Animated Short Film: *Room on the Broom; Get a Horse!

Documentary Short Film: The Lady in No. 6; Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Pvt. Jack Hall

(*Facing Fear — about a gay bashing).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

See me Friday on ‘Good Day’ giving my Oscar predictions

ELLEN DEGENERESAs any good gay knows, Sunday night the Oscars are on ABC, and this year is about as gay as it gets: Ellen DeGeneres hosting, and Dallas Buyers Club a shoo-in for a category or two. So who will win?

Well, you don’t have to wait until Sunday to find you — just tune into Good Day on Ch. 4, KDFW Friday morning between 8:15 and 8:45 a.m. That’s when I’ll be making my triumphant return to the studio (I was the film critic for Good Day for a few years in the 1990s) to make my Oscar predictions.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Looking’ star Jonathan Groff: The gay interview

Jonathan Groff

Jonathan Groff has had a pretty good week. The animated film he stars in, Frozen, was just nominated for two Oscars and his new HBO series, Looking, debuts on Sunday. So it was a good time for our Chris Azzopardi to sit down with Groff to discuss all his gay projects, idolizing Mark Ruffalo and how Looking freaked out his family.  

Jonathan Groff is remembering a scene he shot for the upcoming HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart. It’s his only part with Julia Roberts, and he doesn’t have a single line with her.

“She plays a doctor and I collapse on the street, and then they take me into her office and she’s like, ‘He’s dying,’” the actor recalls. “So I didn’t get to act with her because I’m, like, hyperventilating on a stretcher. I was foaming at the mouth. She was probably all, ‘This kid is really going for it.’ But she was really nice, very chill, very undramatic and easy.”

The same could be said for Groff. The affable Pennsylvania native got his start on stage, nabbing a Tony nomination for his role in the 2006 Broadway musical Spring Awakening before battling it out with New Directions on Glee, portraying a young David Sedaris in the recent feature film C.O.G. and voicing Kristoff in Disney’s hot winter hit Frozen. Now the actor plays Patrick, the charmingly clueless lead in the new gay-friends-living-in-San-Fran series Looking, which debuts Sunday on HBO. Will there be foam? Probably, but only if it’s at a party.

Dallas Voice:  With Looking and The Normal Heart, it must be nice knowing that HBO is gonna pay your bills for at least the next year.  Jonathan Groff: Right? It’s great. But I’ve already been paid for those jobs in 2013!

In the Looking pilot’s opening scene, after a phone call interrupts a hand-job hookup, you tell your friends you worried it was your mom calling. Has your own mother seen the show?  My mom has always been really supportive of my work. When I was doing Spring Awakening she took bus trips of people to come and see the show — like, seriously, 40 people on a touring bus up from Pennsylvania. That was before she had even seen it, so she was shocked when she saw the sex and the nudity and me hitting Lea Michele with a stick, but she obviously enjoyed it … because there were three more bus trips after that! So she overcame the awkwardness of seeing my butt on stage, but ever since they cast me in Looking, the big question in my family has been: “Are they gonna watch it or not when it comes on TV?”

When I came home for the summer to Pennsylvania, I brought the pilot home on DVD and I just said, “I don’t know if you wanna watch this or not, but I feel like if you do watch it, you probably won’t wanna watch it with me in the room.” I think that really freaked them out.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones